A sleep preference only becomes a “prop” or a problem when that preference in some way hinders sleep or is not compatible with your family’s lifestyle.
70 degree room, washed face, brushed teeth, left side of the bed, short sleeves, pants, socks, no pillow, heavy comforter, door closed, hallway light on, white noise, cup of water on my nightstand. These are all the things that I prefer for optimal sleep. Sure I can sleep without all of these things in perfect order, but wow do I feel like superwoman the next morning when all of my sleep preferences are just right!
Now think about yours.
We often hear discussion about baby’s sleep “props.” They often include pacifier, white noise, a lovie, blanket, swaddle, wearing a hat, etc. During sleep training these “props” are talked about like they’re the barrier keeping your baby from falling asleep and peacefully sleeping 12 hours stretches. I disagree. Why is it ok for me to have sleep preferences but not my baby? So from here on out I won’t be referring to these things as sleep props, rather as your baby’s sleep preferences. A sleep preference only becomes a “prop” or a problem when that preference in some way hinders sleep or is not compatible with your family’s lifestyle.
Let me give you some examples:
Baby falls asleep every night with a pacifier in his mouth. He falls asleep within 10 minutes with no fussing. The pacifier falls out during sleep. Baby wakes up in the middle of the night! He stirs, but reaches over, replaces the pacifier and is back asleep within minutes. Sleep is in no way hindered!
Baby only falls asleep if being held by mom bouncing on an exercise ball. After falling asleep, mom gently lays her in bed. She wakes after every sleep cycle every 45 minutes throughout the night and mom has to hold her on the exercise ball and bounce her back to sleep. This probably isn’t compatible with this family’s lifestyle. Sleep prop, not preference.
See the difference?
The biggest sleep preference question I get often includes something about the pacifier. My baby loves it, but I have to replace it 5 times a night! Sounds like a sleep prop, Mama. So how can we turn that sleep prop into a preference? Teach baby how to meet that need themselves without hindering their or your sleep! You have some choices. 1. You teach baby how to fall asleep with or without the pacifier. 2. You teach baby how to replace the pacifier themselves.
How To Avoid The Paci Dance
To teach your baby how to fall asleep without it, start young and start slowly. As your baby is falling asleep and their blinks are getting longer, slowly pull the paci out of their mouth. Wait. If they simply open their eyes but remain calm, great! Let them continue putting themselves to sleep! If they begin to cry that’s ok too, replace the pacifier and try again later. The goal is that baby begins to be able to go longer periods of time without it while they’re calming down and putting themselves to sleep.
Second option, teach baby how to replace it themselves. Now this option is for older babies and requires some prerequisite skills. Before you teach baby this skill they have to be sleeping with arms out, they have to have the skill of bringing hands to mouth, grasping objects, reaching for objects, and targeting objects with their hands. That’s a lot of skills! So don’t expect your baby to be able to do this successfully until at least 5 months. But here’s how you can start practicing. When your baby does have some of the prerequisite skills developing (grabbing and bringing things to mouth), around 3-5 months, start by holding the paci in front of them at the center of their body so all they have to do is bring their hands together to grab it. Your baby may immediately bring it to their mouth, but you may have to help guide their hands with the paci to their mouth. Success! Don’t expect baby to put it in their mouth correctly each time. That will come. At this age you’re simply working on grabbing the paci and bringing it to their mouth. After they are able to do that, you can begin holding the paci a bit to the side, and eventually even laying it in front of or next to them. The key here is practice, practice, practice. It’s also important to meet your baby where they are when teaching this skill. Don’t expect them to go from not reaching to the pacifier to finding it in the dark in their crib and replacing it independently. But don’t worry, you can teach them to do it! But again, if going through the task of teaching them this skill is not compatible with your lifestyle, ditch that sleep prop and move on!
It is up to you and your baby to determine whether something is a sleep prop or simply a preference. There are no right or wrong answers here! Wearing socks to bed in no way hinders my sleep or interferes with my family’s lifestyle. So why feel the need to take it away? Remember, just like my preference to sleep with socks on, if a preference is not hindering your baby’s or your sleep it’s ok in my book!